Too often teens are dazzled by a college name, wrongly assuming that the “prestige factor” is their automatic ticket to success. Prestige, however, does not always equal “best fit.” Instead of focusing on prestige, ask yourself these questions:
1. Where will I be able to do my best work?
To determine this, understand your learning style. If you’re an organized, independent learner, lecture-style classes will work. If you need to verbalize as you learn and like sharing and hearing others’ opinions, smaller classes might bring out the best in you. Try to sit in on some college classes to help you evaluate which approach fits your style. In addition, consider where you should be ranked academically in a class in order to be challenged but still feel successful. Beware of choosing a college that is either too rigorous or too easy.
2. Where will I be most likely to take advantage of opportunities offered in and out of the classroom?
Your ability to tap into the enrichment part of your college experience will help set you apart when looking for a job or applying to grad school. What does the school offer beyond academics that interests you? Search the college’s website for internships, leadership programs, and research projects—and when you visit a campus, ask students how easy it is to access these resources, as well as how much time they’re able to spend per week on non-academic activities.
3. Which student culture fits me best?
Those who feel comfortable on campus and have made friends are more likely to try out new things and grow. To figure out if the campus culture is a good match, talk with students in the dining hall, the library, and/or the student center. Are they friendly? Pick up the college newspaper and see what issues are important to students. Can you relate? And, if possible, stay overnight to see what happens when the sun goes down. Is this the “family” you want to spend four years with?
Students who put prestige at the top of their college wish list miss an important truth: graduate schools and employers seek successful college grads from a variety of colleges. Your job, then, is to investigate which college environment is likely to be most conducive to your success.
(Article adapted from College Find Newsletter Vol. 21, #4 by Gael Casner and Elizabeth LaScala.)
Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She helps students choose majors and programs of interest, develops best match college lists, offers personalized essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize scholarship opportunities and financial aid awards. Call (925) 385-0562 or visit Elizabeth at her website to learn more.